Whenever the name Michael McDowell is brought up - everyone is quick to remember his horrific qualifying crash at Texas Motor Speedway back in 2008.
However, what many have seemed to forget is that the Phoenix-native is a very talented racecar driver, who has never had a real shot at competing for wins in NASCAR’s top-tier division.
In 166 career Sprint Cup starts- McDowell has only two top-ten finishes, one of those coming this past season.
At the end of the 2013 season, McDowell left Phil Parsons Racing to go and drive for Leavine Family Racing. He went to Leavine Family Racing knowing that the No. 95 team would be running a limited schedule, but had funding to run full races. This limited schedule, as well as having an alliance with Team Penske, would hopefully transform into solid on-track performances.
The season didn’t get off to a good start as McDowell failed to qualify for the Daytona 500. In the 19 races that McDowell ran in 2014, his best finish was seventh at Daytona in July. This made for redemption of missing the biggest stock car race of the year back in February. However, the July race was a rain-shortened event, and over half the field had crashed out before NASCAR officials called the race. Though McDowell finished inside the top 10, he would have preferred the race to continue because there were only 14 cars left to compete on the lead lap.
Over the course of McDowell’s career, he has been labeled as a road-course driver, with a background in GrandAm cars. During the Cheez-it 355 at Watkins Glen, McDowell was running in the top-20 for the first half of the race until Ryan Newman lost control of his car, came out into traffic and McDowell clobbered him. The No. 95 went for a wild ride and literally tore the catch fence down.
Though he has seen better days, McDowell continues to fight his way in NASCAR as he will take many opportunities and make the most out of them. This includes racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske for a total of three races in 2014.
For JGR, McDowell raced both Iowa races in the Pizza Ranch No. 20 Toyota Camry. In both of those races, he ran in the top-10 all day long and tied a career-best finish in August, when finishing runner-up to Brad Keselowski.
For the fall event at Kentucky, McDowell hopped into the same exact car that beat him at Iowa in August. He started and finished eighth.
Much like 2014, 2015 will be a up -and -down year for the No. 95 team. It is unknown on the amount of races that Leavine Family Racing will run. It will be a key for them to find sponsorship other than self-funding the underfunded team. K-Love has been a sponsor for McDowell the past couple seasons, since he raced with PPR. Multiple small companies joined the organization in 2014, but more sponsorship is expected after ending the season-finale on the lead lap at Homestead in 18th- place.
McDowell has a lot to bring to the table, and it is important that he capitalizes on every possible situation in 2015. Expect him to run inside of the top-25 in the races that he does enter. Team Penske has been building their cars, and they should be capable of improving on their 30.6 average finish.